Do Electricians Hold the Key to America’s Future?

in Associations

Another study points to the key role electricians can play in the economic, lifestyle, and climate future of America.

According to a study released Wednesday by The Brattle Group, the nation’s 50 million residential electric water heaters collectively represent a significant – and vastly underutilized – energy storage resource capable of leveraging substantial environmental and economic benefits.

Even in regions heavily reliant on coal and natural gas to generate electricity, the Brattle research shows that consumers have options for saving money on their electric bills and reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions associated with their water heating. Consumers can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 30 percent using their water heater as a thermal battery. Consumers can reduce their CO2 emissions by more than 50 percent using heat pump water heaters. Further, the emission reductions of water-heater storage will compound as more consumers participate and the electricity sector transitions to cleaner fuels and generation technologies.

Who stands at the center water-heater storage, more commonly called “community storage”? Electricians.

The Brattle research examined the economic and grid benefits of controlling three different types of water heaters (80-gallon electric resistance, 50-gallon electric resistance, and heat pump water heaters) for peak shaving, thermal storage, and real-time fast response to supply fluctuations. Researchers modeled these program designs using 2014 data from the PJM and MISO markets.

The Brattle researchers also modeled these programs using projected prices and energy resources in MISO in 2028 to determine the economic and environmental potential of electric water heaters to provide energy services to the grid in the future. The report NRECA-NRDC-PLMA report, “The Hidden Battery: Opportunities in Electric Water Heating,” is authored by Brattle Principals Ryan Hledik and Judy Chang, and Associate Roger Lueken. It was commissioned byNational Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Peak Load Management Alliance (PLMA) and Great River Energy (GRE).

Generation and transmission cooperative Great River Energy, based in Minnesota, has been able to store a gigawatt of energy each night by controlling the electric resistance water heaters of 65,000 end-use members.

“At Great River Energy, we believe there’s a battery hidden in basements all across our service territory,” said Gary Connett, director of member services at Great River Energy. “When the wind is blowing or the sun is shining, large capacity water heaters can be enabled to make immediate use of that energy to heat water to high temperatures. The water heaters can be shut down when renewables are scarce and wholesale costs are high.”

“Co-ops have been controlling large water heaters for decades in order to reduce demand at peak times, which also reduces members’ electric bills. A community storage program using advanced water heaters allows us to do even more: we can store energy, we can optimize the power grid by shaping demand and we can integrate more renewable resources,” said Keith Dennis, NRECA’s senior principal for end-use solutions and standards.

“Given that water heating represents more than 15 percent of household energy use, this is a great opportunity to cut energy waste and also the emissions from electricity generation,” said Robin Roy, director of building energy efficiency and clean energy strategy at the NRDC.

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